There is more than enough action on the South African wine scene in terms of things new, different and fresh, it is the tried-and-trusted classical stuff we do best. On the red wine side, the royal wine that is Cabernet Sauvignon which has always delivered and always will deliver the finest local reds. And when it comes to white grape varieties, South African Chardonnay is now recognised as the best in the so-called ‘New World’ with many international critics reckoning the best Chardonnays outside of Burgundy – ground zero for this grape – are indeed from our land down south.
Many consumers, however, still baulk at the thought of Chardonnay. This thing happens when your first introduction to the variety has been through a glass of something cloyingly woody and confected in a butter-toffee sense. And when South Africa began experimenting with Chardonnay in the 1990’s, this overdone style of wine making was a feature of too many wines. The winemakers could somehow not help cloaking the wines in excess oak, and as a result lost many potential white wine customers who did not like their wine tasting of broken cricket bat and burnt log cabin.
Fortunately this is no longer the case, over-oaked Chardonnays have gone out the fashion door along with mullets and shoulder pads. Wines are now fresher and lean, pure and zesty.
Those still suffering from Chardonnay-itis could do well to get back into the groove with one of the very many good unwooded wines made from this noble grape. The De Wetshof Limestone Hill 2016 would be a good place to start, as this award-winning wine made from the vineyards growing on the chalky soils of Robertson offers all the complexity and depth of Chardonnay without the slightest hint of having as much as winked at an oak barrel.
It is made in an uncomplicated, easy manner to ensure approachability and uncluttered drinking. The grapes are picked. The juice sits on the lees for between six and eight months to draw maximum fruit expression. And then bottled. No fuss. The result is a cool, life-affirming white wine expressing notes of citrus, white flowers and a touch of lemon meringue. Well-chilled, it is my go-to summer wine and a great partner to grilled fish, chicken salad and oysters.
If your eye is on fashion, one would also have noticed the action on the front of blended white wines. In the old days blends were the result of doing something with the odds-and-ends left-over in the cellar. But today winemakers go about blending in a judicious and skilled manner, using the finest vinous elements to craft something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Doran Wines are in white wine central, namely the Voor-Paardeberg region north of Paarl and besides a really mean Chenin Blanc, Doran makes a tremendous white blend called Arya. In the 2015 version of this drink, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne are combined to create a harmonious combination of splendid white grape features.
When approaching this wine, do remember that 2015 is one of the greatest South African vintages ever, a fact that always tends to increase one’s appreciation of the wine at hand. Like the aforementioned Limestone Hill Chardonnay, Arya is unwooded. So apart from providing upfront life and brightness, the wine also gives one the opportunity to try a wine made from grapes that are, in the greater scheme of things, unusual.
Chenin Blanc is well-known to many, but Grenache Blanc and Roussanne are southern French varieties that could be new to palates weaned on the more popular spectra offered by Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
While the stony, mineral elements of Chenin are found in mounds, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne bring intriguing elements to the wine. Grenache Blanc always gives me a salty, marine-like influence, while Roussanne is herbaceous and airily green – like a walk along moss-lined mountain streams. The wine is pleasantly full and satisfying, dry and elegant with a splash of understated stone-fruit.
Immensely quaffable, this wine is great with seafood and cream-based pastas.
Summer would not be summer without rosé, and it is not just about the point of alluring differentiation offered by the colour. Drinking a well-made dry rosé is like jogging through a fruit orchard during a rain-storm, chewing a few berries along the way.
Pinotage, South Africa’s national red grape, has proven to be a great base from which to make rosé and Delheim is a fine example. Its Pinotage Rosé 2016 cleverly uses the juice – that has received a touch of colour from the skins – in combination with a miniscule percentage of Muscat de Frontignan.
Like all rosé, this Delheim needs to be served well-chilled to bring out the lip-smacking refreshment. The wine is full of crunchy berry fruit and plum, with a clean finish leaving just a hint of strawberry. The 4% Muscat does a sterling job of giving the wine a hit of exotic perfume and a floral presence, ensuring a summery sexiness on the finish. Great on its own as the sun sets – or rises – and the wine partners with spicy foods perfectly.
Summer is, truly, on.
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